| Yalta, 1945: when the rest of the world mattered
The 21-day Iraq war brought no surprise to anyone. But it did generate a lot of fear. For, the Iraq war was not really about Iraq; it was about the United States of America.
When the US said that Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was odious to its democratic sensibilities, or that it must liberate the Iraqis from Saddam’s tyranny for it was the Americans’ compelling burden of duty to the international community, it was really talking in the wilderness. During the past 50 years what did the US leave undone to promote dictatorships instead' It brought Ngo Dinh Diem to power in South Vietnam and then agreed to his assassination through a military conspiracy. It ended the benign and stable rule of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, invaded Cambodia and turned it into a “killing field.”
It conspired a coup in Chile to violently remove a democratically elected president and replaced him with the fascist General Auguste Pinochet. It single-handedly destroyed all democratic possibilities in Pakistan by allying with the Pakistani army and supporting recurrent military regimes. It empowered terrorists and fundamentalists in Afghanistan. It propelled Saddam Hussein to launch a 10-year war against Iran — in which he used poison gas against both soldiers and civilians — which had just gone through a bitter anti-Shah (and by the same token, anti-American as well) revolution.
Despite such unprincipled, illegal, conspiratorial, coercive and perfidious international behaviour of the US during the last 50 years, the world had retained great respect for it. Rather than being the product of fear of American power, the respect was partly the result of common peoples’ increasing frustration with the operation of the Soviet system. But more importantly and directly, it was the product of the ordinary peoples’ keen observation and forthright appreciation of how in the US, a largely open and free society exists, how Americans can freely engage in self-criticism and self-correction, how Americans have accumulated great power and yet exercised it with great restraint.
This understanding of the US has been produced and sustained by the very humane and empathetic images of its leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. These leaders had committed mistakes, suffered from contradictions, occasionally capitulated to powerful interests; yet, they never flaunted American power on the face of others. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is FDR’s decision, despite his great physical disability, to travel thousands of miles to Teheran and Yalta during the course of World War II to meet Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin when he could easily ask them to come to Washington instead. Both the League of Nations and the United Nations are the US’s brainchildren. The US had become the strongest power by the end of the 19th century. Its power was most decisively seen in World War II. Yet, Roosevelt decided to create the UN as a mechanism of multilateralism, and wilfully accepted restraints on possible future exercise of American power in the interest of world peace.
When the Vietnam war ended, people all over the world thought that through its mistakes America had learnt a few lessons, the most important being perhaps that an American government must not ignore public opinion in America and that military power was not the best means for expanding American influence. Surprisingly, during the last 25 post-Vietnam war years, the US devoted a large amount of its energy to create an unparalleled conventional military power. By the next year, the US will spend as much money for defence as the rest of the world put together by only devoting 4 per cent of its gross domestic product. With only 5 per cent of world’s population, it shares 43 per cent of the world’s economic production. But its participation in foreign aid is lowest among the rich nations. The Bush regime has withdrawn the US from the protocol to combat global warming, rejected its participation in an international criminal court, scrapped the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia, abandoned talks on inspection rules for biological weapons, failed to support the comprehensive test ban treaty, and insisted on violating World Trade Organization norms unless they serve American economic interests.
During the post-war years, the US exercise of coercive power, except for Vietnam, was generally indirect and covert, through agencies indigenous to the target countries. Alternatively, it had earned the approval of the UN and hence could be masked as UN action. The Iraq war represented a complete break with this past. It was the US’s way of declaring that it has complete liberty to exercise its hegemonic power any way it likes.
An important contemporary realist thinker, John J. Mearsheimer, has pointed out that American thinking on politics deeply suffers from a moralist strain. He quotes S.M. Lipset as saying, “Americans are utopian moralists who press hard to institutionalize virtue, to destroy evil people and eliminate wicked institutions and practices.” This leads Americans to question the virtue of political realism and balance of power thinking (which, in principle, deny moral virtue to any particular state). Yet, during the Cold War period and also earlier, the US was, in practice, following a balance of power politics as a prudent policy. As Mearsheimer says, “Behind closed doors…the elites who make national security policy speak mostly the language of power, not that of principle, and the US acts in the international system according to the dictates of realist logic.” This created a gap in the US between political rhetoric and political action.
But now, as the post-Cold War period is coming of age, Bush and his cohorts are trying to create a new synthesis between rhetoric and action in US foreign policy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no longer any compelling need for practising realist balance of power politics. On the other hand, through the accumulation of enormous power during the last quarter century the US has achieved an unchangeable preponderance of power. The present US policy-makers have combined the fact of this enormous power with the traditional moralist strain in American thinking to produce an unseated doctrine of “moralism of American power” and have started to speak in the language of “moral universalism”. Its like saying any exercise of American power is per se moral, because it is directed against what America labels as evil.
This not only goes against the core of realist thinking, but is a recipe of Nazism in international politics. For this doctrine of moralism of American power is based on the belief that American hegemony is best for the world and therefore, America would brook no opposition to it. In effect, the US would create and lead a world empire.
What can the world do about it' An open challenge to American power or any attempt to create a new combination of powers to balance America will be nipped in the bud through the application of raw military might (even a war against France or Russia is no longer unthinkable). The only strategy could be long-term, and Gandhian in spirit. The first requirement is for people to realize that the world is now divided into the US and the “rest”; what divides the two is neither religion nor civilization, but imperialism. The choice for the “rest” is either to succumb individually or resist collectively. It is necessary to understand that in this struggle, terrorism cannot be the means: it would only strengthen the hegemony and divide the rest.
The protests and peace movements will have to continue, but these will not be adequate. Countries as well as individuals will have to withdraw their cooperation with the US. At the onset of Nazism in Europe, thousands had flocked to the US, settled there and made America what it is today. Now a counter-migration is necessary. To compensate for non-cooperation with the US, new and alternative structures of international cooperation will have to be built by the “rest”. These strategies will be costly in economic terms, at least in the early phases.
One thing needs to be remembered here. Two-fifths of American citizens have already opted for peace. There would be more. The world anti-imperialist struggle must certainly look forward to them. These Americans have a democratic and international responsibility to see that their country does not come to be ruled by the enemies of democracy.